The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Dredging manager explains the process


Mike Ott, project manager for the Portland district US Army Corps of Engineers, described dredging programs and their many details Tuesday. Photo by Rick Nelson.

Why has it taken so long to set up beach nourishment projects at Cape Horn and on Puget Island?

Mike Ott, the Columbia district project manager for the US Army Corps of Engineers, attempted to answer those and other questions Tuesday at the meeting of the county board of commissioners.

Residents of Cape Horn and East Sunny Sands/Pancake Point areas have been pressing county commissioners for three years to set projects to replenish their eroding beaches. Commissioners have established flood control zone districts, levied an assessment to start covering expenses, and hired an engineering consultant to design the projects and handle the permit applications.

It is unlikely any of the sites will receive dredged sand deposits this year.

"This process requires a lot of back and forth," Ott said. Each permit application supplies information that needs further analysis.

The criteria for a project, Ott said, are that it be environmentally acceptable, that it be cost effective, and if those criteria are satisfied, that there be a beneficial use.

The agency looks for sites up and down the lower river and is in the process of creating a new 20-year management plan. The agency also wants to work with local partner sponsors in cases where there is a beneficial use.

A coalition of ports acts as the agency's dredging contractor, using mobile hopper dredges when sand builds waves along the river bottom and a larger pipeline dredge, the Oregon, when there is a long, large shoal to remove.

The hopper dredges collect sand and move it to a deep spot in the river to deposit in water; the pipeline dredge deposits the sand along the shorelines.

Puget Island resident Bob Getchell objected to the plan to place dredged sand on the Philip Vik farm inside the East Sunny Sands dike. The fill could reach a height of 25-35-feet above ground along the inland edge and pose problems for neighbors, he said.

Ott explained that the site was selected by the ports, not the Corps, in a process that was started in the 1990's and was part of a 20-year disposal plan.

"It's one of many that our sponsors went out to pursue," he said.

Getchell chided county commissioners for not fighting against the disposal site.

"To me it's very upsetting about the consideration given to neighboring property," he said. "There's no benefit to our community to have the sand disposal site there.

"It's like everything was ramrodded down our throats on this. At no time did you guys negotiate with them . . . It's mind boggling that you guys approved this."

Commissioners didn't respond to Getchell's comments. Last week, saying they wanted to review the management plan for the Vik property, they conditionally approved the ports' application for a shoreline permit to use property outside the dike to locate machinery to pump dredged sand onto the site.

The Corps doesn't control all aspects of river use, Ott said.

Responding to a question, he said the agency has no control over the speed of ships and tugboats, which, residents say, cause erosion with their large wakes.

The agency also has to satisfy regulations created or administered by other agencies such as the state Department of Ecology or the federal US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is requiring a survey of proposed spoils site for the presence of an endangered species of bird.

Cape Horn resident Richard Erickson commented that area residents had signed documents in 2010 to initiate a beach nourishment program, and now they're having to go through the process again.

"There is frustration you're seeing on people's faces," he said.

New regulations occur from time to time, Ott said, and that has forced the agency to change its permitting requirements.

Commissioners pointed out some of their problems with the process.

Satisfying each new requirement costs the county money it doesn't have, said Commissioner Dan Cothren.

Commissioner Blair Brady pointed out that the Corps itself has caused some erosion problems with its poorly maintained pile dikes. Designed to deflect current into the main channel, the dikes also create eddies which erode shorelines, a significant problem at Pancake Point.

Ott identified several issues the county will have to address in order to get its sites authorized for spoils deposits.

For example, the agency wants to have an analysis of how the proposed deposits will erode--the speed of the erosion and where the eroded sand would go.

The Sand Pit site on Ostervold Road may not be large enough to be economically feasible, he said, and the Welcome Slough site is very steep, so depositing sand at the top along the dike could overload the slope and cause the whole area to slide into the river.

Finally, Ott noted that local sponsors are responsible for the incremental cost of beneficial projects, that is, the difference between the calculated cost benefit and the actual cost of dredging work for a site.


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